Emma Straub is a celebrated author and co-owner of Brooklyn-based bookstore Books Are Magic (get yourself a gift card!). Her newest book, All Adults Here, explores the complexities of familial relationships through the eyes of different generations, from a teenager coming of age to a family matriarch falling for an unexpected partner, all framed around the death of the matriarch’s frenemy. The emotions and nuances of family dynamics are woven throughout Straub’s novels. We discussed what other books help tell the stories of the building and breaking of bonds.
All Adults Here
Jillian Lucas: I actually just finished All Adults Here and I've read your other books as well. I know that a lot of what you touch on in your books is about sort of complicated family situations. I'd love to know more about that and what you'd recommend to people that are interested.
Emma Straub: So, the first book that I was thinking about was Anne Patchett's Commonwealth. Patchett is basically just like my hero across the board. For example, the last time I really left my house to do anything was to go to Nashville to this librarian's conference and I got to have a sleepover at her house. And Ann Patchett has a standing desk that is actually a treadmill. And she just sort of walks on it. And I am just, I have just been staring at every corner of my house trying to figure out where you can place it being like, where do I put my treadmill desk? Because especially right now, like that is the key. Um, but the desk is not a book, but Commonwealth is a book.
JL: What about it draws you in?
ES: I mean it's just, you know, it's my favorite kind of story because it's a family that functions the way most families do, which is that they are a very tight little clump for some period of time. When children are small and then the clump loosens or the knot unties, as children turn into teenagers and adults. And as parents turn back into just a couple that either works or doesn't work. It covers time in this amazing way. I just, I loved it. I loved that book so much.
JL: What’s another book that you look to when it comes to evolving relationships?
ES: Another book that I just really think is perfection and think about all the time is Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which is not a family novel or at least it doesn't start out as a family novel. It's a friendship novel but it's about this group of kids who meet at summer camp. I'm like, it actually really is very directly in All Adults Here. But it tracks these people from, you know, a formative moment in their teenage years for decades and decades. It just really examines just how loving relationships can be really complicated, you know, that it's not like “Oh, here's the person, I love her.” Right? Because, of course, that's only the beginning, you know? Like that's not, there's literally a whole life after that.
JL: I think that’s really true!
ES: Well, in a similar way, Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad does that too. I mean, there are parts in that book too that I think about just all the time. It is my favorite thing about fiction, that a fictional character can be obsessed with something and then you can think about that. Like whenever I hear the song "Bernadette", I think about A Visit From the Goon Squad (and if you’re like me and listen to SiriusXM Soul Town radio station, you hear "Bernadette" a lot). But there's a pause in the song and there's that whole thing. It's a book about pauses and songs.
JL: I think what I really find interesting about a lot of fiction right now is this sort of humanizing aspect of characters. And I think it’s really interesting that you're sort of talking about obsession. I think that like it's such a human emotion that it's hard to, to not, you know, feel when you're reading it. Cause you're like, I recognize that.
ES: Yeah! Yeah. And just to have characters who are thinking about things, you know, I think that no one has ever accused me of being plot heavy. But I do think that something that I like when writing is to sort of let your characters think about things and to sort of wonder a little bit. I mean, certainly when you're writing, I mean I always start with a clear idea of where I want to go, exactly what I think is going to happen. (And of course I'm never right, but that's fine). That's how I think too.
So in All Adults Here, there is, not quite a nursing home, but like an elderly person facility, retirement community type place. When I was writing, or I think I had already finished it, when I got the galley for Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. But Astrid, who's really the main character in my book, is also an older woman. She's 68 years old and reading about Olive getting older was amazing. I wish I'd had that book about a year earlier when I was still writing, but she just blows my mind. One of the wonderful things about being a fiction writer is that it's the exact opposite of being like a fashion model or gymnast or something, you know? Like, you just get better as you get older because you've seen more and you understand more. When I think about my first novel, which is about a woman in the Hollywood Studios system and I think she's 60 or 70 in the book, maybe even older. Anyway, it covers most of her adult life. And when I wrote it, I was in my twenties and like, thinking about it now, I'm like, Oh my God. Like, I just turned 40 and I already feel like I understand so much more than that. My books are so much richer just because I have more to draw on, you know? Hopefully, hopefully books get better as you get older. That's the goal, right?
JL: I think there is a feeling of growth and exploration to different complicated situations. And I think the only way to experience that is to have grown and seen and experienced people in your life kind of going through processes differently.
ES: Yeah. So there’s a new YA (Young Adult) book that is coming out momentarily called Stay Gold by a person named Tobly McSmith. What I love about it, so Tobly is a trans man and the novel is about a trans boy who has moved schools. He's just starting his senior year at this new school and he decides that rather than, You know, come out as trans to his new school that he will just go stealth. He will just present himself as a boy and not tell anyone his story. And it's just, it's like a perfect YA novel in that it's funny and quick and full of real teenage moments and there's this beautiful first love story. But it's also the first YA love story that I've read that is about a trans boy written by a trans man. And I think that he did such a beautiful job.
It’s wonderful that publishers are finally realizing that we all need to read things from other points of view that aren't exactly our own. And I think that a lot of people will read it and I'm sure that a lot of trans kids will read it and see themselves, but I think that whoever reads it is going to see themselves in it. And that, of course, is the point. That's why books are so wonderful, you know, because they really put you inside someone else's experience for 200 pages or 400 pages. So, I hope a lot of people read it.
Interview edited for clarity.
Scouted selects products independently and prices reflect what was available at the time of publish. Sign up for our newsletter for even more recommendations. Don’t forget to check out our coupon site to find deals from Wayfair, Target, Kohls, and more. If you buy something from our posts, we may earn a small commission.